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Schools reach boiling point with county over agreement
Both sides are frustrated as a deadline nears for a deal on how school capacity figures into development decisions.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published October 3, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - Pasco school officials are getting frustrated with their county government counterparts.
They've got four months to craft an agreement in which school capacities play a role in deciding whether new home developments can win approval. Yet each time negotiators for the two sides meet, the school district folks walk away feeling like they're getting the short shrift.
Their dissatisfaction boiled over during Tuesday's School Board meeting.
Assistant superintendent Ray Gadd told the board that he couldn't in good faith hand over the county's latest draft proposal, it was so unacceptable in several key areas relating to land acquisition and road improvements related to new school construction. The district made concessions, he said, but "nothing in that draft interlocal agreement reflects anything we discussed."
He said he and school board attorney Dennis Alfonso likely would write their own version of a proposed agreement, "so you can at least have what we think is reasonable, and they can have theirs, and you can at least see where the debate is."
To which county government leaders said: It's about time.
"I've been trying to encourage that for some time," county attorney Robert Sumner said. "They should probably be taking more of a lead than they are."
Sumner said he, too, worried that time is running short in the effort to write a concurrency plan for schools. That means the posturing needs to end, he added.
"It's time to put pen to paper, write it out, argue and get it done," he said.
But that doesn't mean caving in, Sumner added. Compromise means both sides moving to the center, so that the plan is acceptable to all.
To Sumner's point of view, the school district is giving little while asking for a lot.
And there's the rub for the school district. Board members and key administrators say it's the county government that has been unwilling to budge on issues relating, in particular, to how the district buys land for new construction and who pays for the road and sidewalk improvements to the school sites.
"We made a number of concessions in our discussions, but we've received nothing in return," Gadd told the board. "I don't know how far we go before we say enough is enough."
Board members suggested that perhaps they already have gone that far. They talked about the need to better educate the commissioners, who might not know how much the district already does for the county. They spoke of how other districts seem to have better working relationships with their county governments.
Not everywhere, though. The Hillsborough School Board is suing its county government over the same issue of responsibility for the roads.
"We might need to toughen up a little bit" in negotiating tactics, vice chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said.
Board member Allen Altman expressed dismay that the two governments are debating over what essentially amounts to which pocket to take taxpayers' money out of.
"We keep having these discussions about who pays, but the bottom line is the taxpayers pay," Altman said.
He figured ultimately things would work out, despite the process.
"I think it is frustrating when we serve the same constituency, yet we have people who don't seem to be able to work together for the same constituency in an effective way," Altman said.
Commissioner Ted Schrader said he, too, was confident that the commission and board could overcome their differences, as they have in the past. He voiced disappointment that the board started criticizing the effort after just one joint meeting between them.
"February is still a long way off," he said.
The superintendent and county administrator are scheduled to meet Monday to try to smooth over differences. The commission and School Board have an Oct. 30 meeting set to further discuss the proposal.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.